Trying to replicate the handheld success of the New Super Mario Bros. series, Nintendo goes back to the well and pulls out another reboot with Yoshi’s New Island, which resurrects the feel of the 1995 Super Nintendo game Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. Charming enough for kids while challenging enough for adults, the whimsical platformer is yet another 3DS winner. Also debuting is TowerFall Ascension, a frantic single-screen shooter that appears on the PS4 after starting off on the obscure Ouya console. JRPG fans, meanwhile, can try their hand at the talky, soap opera-like Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky.
Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky
(PS3, $50, Everyone 10+)
You can excuse JRPG fans for refusing to upgrade to an Xbox One or PlayStation 4, because developers in their prized genre are sticking with the older systems for just about all of their finest work. This mouthful of a title is another shining example of the JRPG’s late but flourishing bloom on the PS3, telling a wild and emotionally-charged tale of a pair of alchemists who are recruited to help a struggling organization get back on its feet.
You see the tale unfold from one of two perspectives — either the sprightly, short-skirt wearing Escha or the brooding, subversive Logy. The game is far more story than action, with long, involved conversations broken up by quests to find items you can fuse to make concoctions that advance the story and give you the upper hand in combat. The music and art style and are gorgeous, and the dual protagonist system encourages you to play through the game again to feel as though you’ve experienced all it has to offer.
(PS3, Vita, $10, Everyone)
Downloand Luftrausers and you’ll have to do a double-take to make sure you’re not playing something from an early 80s arcade or maybe a Game Boy. A monochrome art style that’s meant to resemble World War II newsreels and 8-bit styled graphics strip the aerial battles away of all modernity to let the gameplay speak for itself.
Although the action seems simple, the nuances of flight and combat are deceptively complicated. You can hone your aircraft with dozens of combinations of propulsion systems, bodies and weaponry as you dogfight other old-timey ace pilots or take on battleships and subs. The name of the game is racking up as high a score as possible, and once you get into a zone, Luftrausers manages to get your heart pounding. Many gamers won’t give something like this a look, but those who give it a chance will be pleasantly surprised.
(PS4, $15, Everyone 10+)
Another retro-fashioned game that thrives on raw, blissful gameplay alone, TowerFall Ascension is one of the best downloads available on the fledgling PS4. Pairing the combat stylings of the original Mario Bros. and Joust and with the cat-and-mouse antics of Defender or Pac-Man, the archery-based game has you hop among platforms and shoot or stomp on the heads of increasingly tough waves of enemies.
Entryways on the sides, tops and bottoms lead to doors on the opposite sides, adding depth to the levels. To survive, you have to think several seconds ahead, anticipate enemies’ moves and hone your twin-stick shooting and jumping abilities. The game is fun enough alone, but co-op multiplies the thrills considerably. This game was the lone bright spot on the long-forgotten Ouya console, and with design tweaks and tons of additional levels in this port, truly comes into its own on the PS4.
Yoshi’s New Island
(3DS, $40, Everyone)
Yoshi and his gaggle of hungry, hungry dino pals are back, and their mission is to escort Baby Mario to safety. You accomplish this by glide-jumping, swallowing enemies that you’ll turn into projectile eggs, and employing butt-stomps frequently to eliminate slow-moving enemies. If this sounds familiar, you most likely were electronically babysat by your Super Nintendo in the mid-1990s, and the new game will satisfy those who are thirsty for more of the same.
More than a carbon copy of the classic, there are ample tweaks to the formula, such as motion-controlled mine cart sections, giant eggs that crush scenery and Sonic-inspired speed-run boosts. The difficulty level is insultingly easy on the surface, but the ample collectibles pack a hefty challenge for even the most seasoned of gamers. While Yoshi’s New Island can’t quite capture the joy of the 1995 original, it’s still a rock-solid addition to an already stunning 3DS lineup.